Council bans pot dispensaries, rejects emergency ordinance

Medileaf's General Manager Javier Patterson scans a bag of

Gilroy’s City Council on Monday approved the first reading of a
ban of medical marijuana dispensaries that will likely go into
effect next month. However, the legislative body failed to garner
the five votes needed to make the ordinance take effect
immediately.
Gilroy’s City Council on Monday approved the first reading of a ban of medical marijuana dispensaries that will likely go into effect next month. However, the legislative body failed to garner the five votes needed to make the ordinance take effect immediately.

The decision came after the council talked at length trying to satisfy Councilman Perry Woodward, who said he favored an ordinance but took issue with language in the Gilroy ordinance.

“This needs redacting and refining,” Woodward said. “I’m not going to vote for it as is.”

The council voted 4-3 in favor of both the emergency ordinance and the first reading of the non-emergency ordinance, with councilmen Woodward, Craig Gartman and Peter Arellano dissenting. Five votes were required for the emergency ordinance to pass. If the council votes in favor of a second reading of the approved ordinance Jan. 25, the ban will be effective Feb. 24.

The ordinance would apply to MediLeaf, a dispensary that opened Nov. 9 without a business license at First Street and Westwood Drive, City Attorney Linda Callon said. However, MediLeaf will likely remain open for the time being until a superior court in San Jose decides its fate.

Woodward said he personally had no problems with medical marijuana dispensaries, but he wanted the city to be protected as it pursues litigation against MediLeaf. Still, he had problems with several portions of the ordinance banning dispensaries, including language in the ordinance’s “finidings” that stated that at least one dispensary was operating in Gilroy in addition to MediLeaf.

Woodward also expressed concern with a portion of the ordinance that stated that the new ordinance was “declaratory of, and is intended to act as a clarification of existing ordinances,” as he believed that portions of the ordinance are not already covered by city law.

Callon advised against changing that particular language, saying that it was useful for an ongoing lawsuit between the city and MediLeaf.

City Administrator Tom Haglund indicated that police were investigating another dispensary that appeared to be in town, although he did not provide further details. Police Chief Denise Turner said she did not know off hand if there had been any calls to police regarding MediLeaf.

Like Woodward, Gartman expressed doubt that MediLeaf was causing any public safety problems.

He said that if police had received one call regarding the dispensary, it likely would have ended up in the city staff report about the dispensary.

On the other side of the issue, Mayor Al Pinheiro reiterated his feelings that the council needed to remain consistent in its stance against medical marijuana dispensaries after it voted 4-3 on Oct. 12 against an ordinance that would have allowed zoning for them. Council members Cat Tucker, Dion Bracco and Bob Dillon joined him both on Oct. 12 and again Monday night in supporting the ban on dispensaries.

Unlike past meetings on MediLeaf in which the council chambers were packed with attendees, only about 10 people showed up Monday to hear the discussion on the dispensary ban, and only about half of those attendees spoke.

MediLeaf ombudsman Eric Madigan, who said that the dispensary now has more than 1,100 members – including more than 300 Gilroy residents – said that council members were engaging in a war “against disabled seniors in your community.”

On the other hand, local resident Brenda Maggiora said she takes her children to dance lessons in the same shopping center as MediLeaf, and she said the area smells of marijuana.

“Where do we want Gilroy to go from here?” she asked. “I don’t want my children growing up like this.”

Local Greg Correnti, who also favored banning dispensaries, said that he hoped that Woodward and the city attorney could find common language that they could agree on so that an emergency ordinance would be approved.

Another local resident, Marc Perkel, urged the city to adopt a one-sentence temporary ban on dispensaries to allow an emergency ban to go into effect.

Callon responded that more language would be needed if it were to be defensible in court.

“A measure like this needs findings as to why we’re going to ban a business,” she said.

In addition to banning dispensaries, the council turned down a proposal by Woodward that would have created a subcommittee to meet with Berliner-Cohen to discuss current litigation costs against MediLeaf and set a fee cap on legal fees related to the case. Gartman also asked that a periodic update on litigation costs be added to the proposal. Arellano joined the two council members in supporting that idea.

Woodward believes the firm has given the city bad legal advice that caused the city to lose out on a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against MediLeaf. Despite Woodward’s protests, several council members defended the advice that Berliner-Cohen has given to the city thus far.

“It’s not my opinion that we were given bad advice,” Tucker said.

Callon said she stands by the advice that the law firm has given the city, noting that the case against the dispensary is ongoing and has not been decided yet. She indicated that Berliner-Cohen has provided legal advice to the city on different occasions since the mid-1980s.

“The focus should be on the wrongdoer,” Callon said. “The wrongdoer is MediLeaf.”

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